Two years ago, you were younger and lovelier. Your childhood was closer to you than it is now, and you had just seen Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show instead of some other Super Bowl halftime show.
Also, a series of Snapchats were compiled into a short video and tweeted by Riverside Polytechnic High School student Josh Holz. The Snapchats were of his friend Daniel Lara, who was wearing sneakers. “Damn!” he was always yelling at Daniel. And in one instance, “Damn, Daniel! Back at it again with the white Vans.” He sort of laughs in the middle of that sentence, the kind of failure-to-keep-composure that’s specific to the time in your life when you’re a teenager and you have basically no responsibilities other than laughing and, I don’t know, reading books. You’re certain that the 14-or-so people who matter to you the most are the only funny and interesting people on the planet and the only people on the same page as you. You yourself are also so funny and so interesting and — for now — very safe and loved. Oh my god!
We loved this little glimpse of youth and suburban surety, and we retweeted it more than 120,000 times in four days.
Afterward, a lot of things happened, most of which you probably remember. Daniel and Josh went on The Ellen Degeneres Show. They received a lifetime supply of Vans that they donated to charity. They received profiles in Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan, complimenting them profusely for being nothing more exceptional than nice, normal boys. They found prom dates. Fell in love. Drank Redbull with mom.
They got a lot of Twitter followers and tweeted some okay tweets, some good tweets, and mostly a lot of boring tweets. They were in a Weezer video for some reason? In June 2016, Jay Z gave Daniel a shout-out on the Pusha T song “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” which also features a sample of Tomi Lahren attempting to mock Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show performance. Josh became close personal friends with Travis Scott, and Daniel was overwhelmed in the presence of a famous skyscraper.
Also, their accounts were hacked, and Josh was swatted after a stranger lied to the police, saying he had shot his mother with an AK-47. Not solely because of “Damn Daniel” but at least in part: teens across America internalized the lesson that being in the right place at the right time on the internet could get them famous for no reason, and acted worse and worse. Isn’t everything just about as stupid as you could possibly imagine?
If I don’t think about those last few things, “Damn Daniel” still makes me smile. Two years later! How nice it is to peek into someone else’s quiet life of friendship and extremely accessible street fashion. How nice to watch the video and then look up Josh’s Twitter, where he, unfortunately, is still soliciting business inquiries but also writing things like “clam chowder on a rainy day...” and “summer.” I guess I really just like knowing that literally anyone is okay.
You can follow the “Damn Daniel” trail pretty far into the internet. There is a surprising amount of fan fiction about Josh and Daniel, and some of it is gross. (They’re teens!) Some of it intersects with other fandoms — like Doctor Who, famous YouTubers, or the dearly departed boy band One Direction — and is kind of elegant:
“Would you like to explain to me why I gained [30,000] Twitter followers while I was sleeping, and why five people have yelled ‘Damn, Harry, back at it again with gold boots’ at me since I got to school? I’m not even wearing my gold boots,” Harry cries, throwing his arms up in frustration.
Gold boots! I love it. Harry Styles absolutely would wear gold boots, though I don’t think he would notice an additional 30,000 Twitter followers.
Daniel and Josh still receive fan art, which I also love.
The internet is big, and that’s what lets me drop in on the lives of these boys I don’t know. But the internet is big, and that’s why these boys have been written about hundreds of times. They will have to be careful if they want to avoid becoming terrible people. It’s not even their fault, really. All of us who work at blogs and as morning show producers and as meme appropriation experts on Wendy’s social media team should be more careful with our nation’s youth.
Thinking about Josh and Daniel, I reread the Melissa Broder poem “Hope This Helps,” which was published in The Iowa Review in 2014 and contains this nugget of advice for people who are alive right now:
I don’t think this is a story about blaming grown-ups
for the ways we are ruined.
I think this is a story about knowing what we are up against
and what our essential consistency is
which in my case is milk
and in your case is milk
you are milk you are
milk you are
Does that help? Anyway, I found this video from 2009 by accident when I was looking for a header image for this post, and it’s just as good as “Damn Daniel,” if what you want from a piece of content is inaudible background conversation, kids doing nothing, and sneakers.